Israeli institutions vie for unclaimed books, art looted by Nazis

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JERUSALEM -- Two Israeli institutions are battling for custody of an unclaimed collection of artwork plundered by the Nazis -- a dispute over who best represents the victims of the Holocaust and their descendants.

The Israel Museum, repository of such national treasures as the Dead Sea Scrolls, has control of the collection and is fighting to keep it. It is up against a company headed by a Holocaust survivor that is legally entrusted with locating the property of victims...

The stakes are high: Although the museum says most of the roughly 1,200 paintings and items of Judaica have little monetary value, they include important paintings such as one by the early 20th century Austrian master Egon Schiele thought to be worth more than $20 million.

None of the museum's pieces has ever been claimed by survivors or heirs, the museum said. But a law passed last year requires Holocaust victims' property to be turned over to the restitution company, known as The Company for Locating and Retrieving Assets of People Who Were Killed in the Holocaust.

The Israel Museum contends that as a national institution of the Jewish state it is the most fitting home for the Holocaust art. The museum was chosen "to be a custodian of this cultural legacy for the benefit of the public in the State of Israel," museum director James Snyder said.

But Avraham Roet, 78, the Holocaust survivor who heads the restitution group, said the museum has no special status...Roet's company is required by law to look for heirs to the recovered property, and if none are found, sell the property and distribute the money to needy survivors.

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